Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sometimes you just need to "flee"...

Most of the time it is wise to face our trials head on. But sometimes I believe it is better to "flee." I was reminded of this principle recently when I read the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife.

6 And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.

7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.

8 But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;

9 There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

10 And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.

11 And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within.

12 And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out. -Genesis 39:6-12

What are the "potiphar wives" that stand in our way? What temptations should we "flee" from? I can think of a few:

  1. Pornography (print and internet)
  2. Inappropriate thoughts of lust
  3. Entertainment that provokes sexual thoughts and desires
  4. Situations in which our sexual morality may be compromised

These are a few temptations I can think of, and I am sure there are more. When we are faced with these "potiphar wives" lets remember the story of Joseph, drop everything and anything we are doing, and "flee" to moral safety.

If you are on the computer and have a desire to view pornography, turn off the computer and flee. If you are experiencing inappropriate thoughts flee from them by concentrating on prayer or the scriptures. If you are viewing entertainment that causes you to have inappropriate sexual thoughts and desires flee from the entertainment. And if you are in a situation where your morals could be compromised flee from the situation.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Jacob and Esau: A Lesson in Forgiveness

Last night I read one of my favorite Old Testament Bible stories. It is the story of Jacob and Esau's reunion during Jacob's journey back to Canaan.

Jacob and Esau were twin brothers, Esau being the eldest. Esau was favored by his father, the great Patriarch Isaac, son of Abraham. Jacob was favored by his mother, Rebekah, who was told by the Lord:
Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. -Genesis 25:23
In normal circumstances Esau would have received both the birthright and first blessing from his father, Isaac. However, Esau traded his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of pottage, and was tricked out of his blessing when Jacob impersonated him.

This angered Esau - so much that Jacob had to leave the land of Canann and dwell with his Uncle Laban for several years. After being tricked out of Isaac's first blessing Esau said in his heart, "The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob."

After several years with Laban, the Lord commanded Jacob to return to Canaan. By this time Jacob had four wives and eleven sons. He had also become wealthy and had many servants, cattle and sheep.

During his journey Jacob was told that Esau was approaching to meet him. This struck fear in Jacob:

9 And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee:

10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.

11 Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children. -Genesis 32:9-11

With good reason Jacob feard Esau because of what had transpired between these two brothers in the past.

To try and pacify Esau Jacob sent many sheep and cattle as a gift. As Esau approached Jacob went ahead of his women and children. What happened was unexpected and one of the greatest scenes of forgiveness and love in the Bible:

4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.

5 And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and said, Who are those with thee? And he said, The children which God hath graciously given thy servant.

6 Then the handmaidens came near, they and their children, and they bowed themselves.

7 And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves: and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves.

8 And he said, What meanest thou by all this drove which I met? And he said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord.

9 And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself. -Genesis 33:4-9

The first time I read this scripture I remember weeping as I felt Esau's spirit of forgiveness and love.

It is my desire that I can approach others that have wronged me with the same love and forgiveness as Esau. May we all strive for this, making the world a better place.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Mental Illness

This post is meant to be a positive response to articles written by one of my favorite bloggers, Steve M. from Within The Bubble. I consider the author of this blog one of my best "cyber-pals" and love his perspective on the LDS Church. While we disagree at times, I feel our conversations have been very productive and I have come away from our dialogue enlightened.

I disagree with his latest series titled "Mormonism and Mental Illness." I believe it is too negative and does not highlight the Church's current stance and efforts concerning mental illness, specifically depression. He has promised a third installment to his series that will detail the Church's efforts, but I can't resist the opportunity to post my own thoughts and quotes.

To learn about the LDS Church's current feelings about this issue all one has to do is go to the Church's official website ( and read through the "Ensign" and other official Church publications. Here are a few points and comments made in these magazines over the recent years:

In what I feel is a powerful and well-written article titled "Myths about Mental Illness" Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy tackles the myths that exists among others, even members of the LDS Church, about mental illness. Please allow me to highlight his points:

1. All mental illness is caused by sin...

The truth is that many faithful Latter-day Saints who live the commandments and honor their covenants experience struggles with mental illness or are required to deal with the intense pain and suffering of morally righteous but mentally ill family members. Their burdens—and they are many—can be lifted only by love, understanding, and acceptance.

2. Someone is to blame for mental illness...

Ascribing blame for mental illness causes unnecessary suffering for all concerned and takes time and energy which would better be used to increase understanding of what actually is happening—to get a complete assessment and proper diagnosis of the illness involved, to understand the causes, to get proper medication and learn behavioral and cognitive techniques that are part of the healing process. As victims, loved ones, and all the rest of us increase our understanding, then patience, forgiveness, and empathy will replace denial, anger, and rejection.

3. All that people with mental illness need is a priesthood blessing...

Without in any way denigrating the unique role of priesthood blessings, that ecclesiastical leaders are spiritual leaders and not mental health professionals. Most of them lack the professional skills and training to deal effectively with deep-seated mental illnesses and are well advised to seek competent professional assistance for those in their charge who are in need of it. Remember that God has given us wondrous knowledge and technology that can help us overcome grievous problems such as mental illness. Just as we would not hesitate to consult a physician about medical problems such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, so too we should not hesitate to obtain medical and other appropriate professional assistance in dealing with mental illness.

4. Mentally ill persons just lack willpower...

The fact is that seriously mentally ill persons simply cannot, through an exercise of will, get out of the predicament they are in. They need help, encouragement, understanding, and love. Anyone who has ever witnessed the well-nigh unbearable pain of a severe panic attack knows full well that nobody would suffer that way if all that was needed was to show a little willpower. No one who has witnessed the almost indescribable sadness of a severely depressed person who perhaps can’t even get out of bed, who cries all day or retreats into hopeless apathy, or who tries to kill himself would ever think for a moment that mental illness is just a problem of willpower. We don’t say to persons with heart disease or cancer, “Just grow up and get over it.” Neither should we treat the mentally ill in such an uncompassionate and unhelpful way. -Alexander B. Morrison, “Myths about Mental Illness,” Ensign, Oct 2005, 31–35

If this article does not tackle the misconceptions in the LDS Church that Steve covers in his series, I don't know what would.

In an Ensign article titled "Easing the Burdens of Mental Illness" Dawn and Jay Fox write:

Sometimes good parents of mentally ill children are told by the unknowing that perhaps the child’s illness could have been avoided if they had practiced better parenting skills. Yet scientific evidence shows that there is a strong biological component in many of these disorders. For example, research performed by Brigham Young University professor Erin D. Bigler shows actual differences in the brains of those with various mental disorders. Dr. Bigler believes that “major psychiatric disorders have physiological underpinnings.” 9 These illnesses may develop in even the best of environments...we can help people find the resources they need. LDS Family Services, which can be accessed through one’s bishop, offers support and professional counseling to individuals and families within the context of Latter-day Saint values and, if necessary, makes referrals to hospitals or other treatment centers. -Dawn and Jay Fox, “Easing the Burdens of Mental Illness,” Ensign, Oct 2001, 32

This article explains that mental illness is not the result of bad parenting, but that there is conclusive evidence that it is tied to biological factors. It also directs people the seek professional counseling and medical assistance.

In response to the question "“My friend seems really depressed, and I’m afraid she might even be thinking about taking her own life. What should I do?” the Church's youth Magazine "New Era" responded:

Depression is a symptom of mental or emotional illness. Just as she would go to a doctor to be treated for a physical illness, she can talk to a professional who can help her understand the nature of epression and teach her ways to cope with it. Whether she is a member of the Church or not, she can get spiritual help. She can pray, get a priesthood blessing, and find comfort by reading the scriptures. Testify to her that the Lord loves her and can bless her with peace. -“Q&A:Questions and Answers,” NewEra, Feb 2007, 14–16

I find the comparison of mental illness and physical illness to be very correct and accurate. I think that most medical professionals would agree with this.

In 2004 in an article titled "When Your Child Is Depressed" Sean E. Brotherson writes:

To understand and identify chronic depression when it
occurs is the first step toward making a difference. Parents should be attentive to depressive symptoms in children of any age, but particularly as they grow older, when the condition becomes more common and the consequences more serious. It is important to recognize that chronic depression is a specific illness that often requires intervention just like diabetes or pneumonia. Fortunately, it is highly treatable, and most individuals respond well to a combination of spiritual and social support, medication if necessary, and therapeutic guidance.-
Sean E. Brotherson, “When Your Child Is Depressed,” Ensign, Aug 2004, 52–57

He also says:

"Depressive symptoms may occur due to a lack of certain brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, that affect an individual’s mood and perception. This is often referred to as a chemical imbalance in the brain. Parents should also understand that when a young person lives contrary to the way he or she has been taught, this can lead to inner conflict and despair (see Moro. 10:22). This can be resolved through repentance. However, it should not be assumed that most cases of clinical depression are caused by unrighteousness."

This article mentions many avenues of helping childen cope with depression, including medication and counseling. It also strikes at the myth that clinical depression is caused by unrighteousness. A child can be depressed because of living contrary to the Gospel, but this should not be assumed, and serious mental illness should always be considered.

In the article "Rising Above the Blues" the author writes:

Depression is real. There are many misconceptions about
depression. Here are a few of the falsehoods you might have heard, along with the truth about this serious mental condition:

False: All teenagers are moody. They don’t have real depression.
True: People of any age can suffer from depression. While it is true that the teen years bring many ups and downs, those who suffer from prolonged depression have a very real health problem.

False: Teens who say they’re depressed just need to snap out of it.
True: That’s like telling someone to perform surgery on himself. Depression is not a phase. It is a serious illness. Those who suffer from depression should see a doctor to find out how to begin treatment.

False: Telling someone that your friend is depressed is betraying a trust.
True: A real friend would do his best to make sure his friend gets help. Depression takes away motivation, and your friend might not recognize that he or she needs help or care about getting help. It’s up to you to be a good friend."-
Shanna Ghaznavi, “Rising Above the Blues,” New Era, Apr 2002, 30

I could continue and share more qoutes and comments in official Church publications about mental illness, but I believe this will suffice. From these articles we learn that chronic mental illness is not due to sin, but a true illness that must be treated by health professionals. This stance is in complete harmony with how many psychologists and doctors view mental illness.

To help battle mental illness the Church offers counseling services through its "Family Services." From the official website of this organization we learn that:

LDS Family Services has 57 offices throughout the United States and 12 international offices in Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, Chile, and Brazil available to provide counseling services to individuals, couples, and families. The professional counseling staff hold a master's degree in the behavioral sciences at a minimum.,12283,2129-1,00.html

Bishops and Stake Leaders are directed to refer members to professionals in LDS Family Services whenever a member of the Church comes to them with signs of mental illness.
There is a charge for these services however for many less fortunate members the Church absorbs the costs. I do not have a dollar amount on how much the Church covers, but I would not be surprised if they were spending millions and millions of dollars annually.

The Church is actively publishing articles that present a correct and well-informed view of mental illness. Ecclesiastical leaders are counseled to direct members that show signs of mental illness to health professionals immediately. The Church is also spending millions of dollars to pay for the counseling and assistance of many of its members through medical professionals. In my opinion, this puts the LDS Church at the forefront of other religious organizations in how they are handling mental illness and the Church deserves credit and praise.

Can the Church improve? Yes. Every organization connected with mental illness, religious and secular, should be striving to improve in how they deal with mental illness. The more important question is if the Church is improving. I think it is clear that it is.

Do members of the Church, even leaders have misconceptions about mental illness? Yes. There are members of the Church (and I would speculate some leaders) that are not as well-informed about mental illness and have misconceptions. This may be caused by early writings of others, including Church leaders that do not recognize mental illness as an actual medical condition. But members and leaders of the Church should not be relying on old material that is not in harmony with the Church's current stance and efforts. They are in error. We cannot blame a member's misconceptions on the Church itself, when it is doing all it can to provide correct and accurate information about mental illness to its leaders and members.

Steve shares personal and poignant experiences in which his leaders attributed his mental illness to sin. This is tragic, and I can understand someone having dissatisfaction for the Church's views on mental illness after having these experiences.

However, I have heard many stories of bishops directing members to health professionals, sometimes paying for this assistance. I personally struggle with mental illness and have had several bishops and a mission president refer me to health professionals immediately, at times paying for it. I feel that my story and others who have had their leaders direct them to professionals is the norm.

The Church should and will continue to educate its leaders on proper procedures regarding mental illness. Mistakes will occur, but I firmly believe the Church is doing all it can and will continue to.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Oh, repent, and he’ll forgive.

"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." - Isaiah 1:18

Today I feel the desire to sing a hymn based on the above scripture written by W.W. Phelps titled "Gently Raise the Sacred Strain." The words to this hymn were written in the early 1830s and were included in the first official Church hymnbook compiled by Emma Smith in 1835. Please allow me to share these words of Grace and Repentance:

Gently Raise the Sacred Strain

Gently raise the sacred strain,
For the Sabbath’s come again
That man may rest,That man may rest,
And return his thanks to God
For his blessings to the blest, For his blessings to the blest.

Holy day, devoid of strife—
Let us seek eternal life,
That great reward,That great reward,
And partake the sacrament
In remembrance of our Lord, In remembrance of our Lord.

Sweetly swells the solemn sound
While we bring our gifts around
Of broken hearts, Of broken hearts,
As a willing sacrifice,
Showing what his grace imparts, Showing what his grace imparts.

Holy, holy is the Lord.
Precious, precious is his word:
Repent and live, Repent and live;
Tho your sins be crimson red,
Oh, repent, and he’ll forgive. Oh, repent, and he’ll forgive.

I first encountered this hymn while serving my full-time LDS mission. I was sitting in a chapel in Chapel Hill, North Carolina attending a Sacrament meeting. As I began singing these words my heart became very heavy. I acknowledged my sins in my heart and in my mind asked the Lord for forgiveness.

Tho your sins be crimson red,
Oh, repent, and he’ll forgive. Oh, repent, and he’ll forgive.

These words filled my soul with an indescribable joy as I felt the Savior's Love and Grace flow from Heaven. As I partook of the Sacrament I knew that I had been forgiven of my sins through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I knew that His Mercy had purified my spirit that was once as red as crimson. I knew that through continual repentance and faith it would become and remain as white as wool. These emotions flowed from my eyes as tears.

I know that these promises and blessings of forgiveness are available to all of us that find ourselves lost in sin. We can all be purified and redeemed through the power of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Death and Harley

This week I received a call from my wife informing me that our daughter's beta fish, affectionately named Harley, passed away. His death was not pretty - the result of our daughter's desire to take a bath with her fishy friend.

As my wife put our weeping baby girl on the phone my heart broke as I heard her say, "I don’t want Harley to die. I don't want him to leave."

In her three years of innocence our daughter was having her first experience with the dark and mysterious part of life known as death.

To console her, my wife decided to have a funeral for Harley. She took a rock from outside and with our daughter's help painted it. The painted rock included the name of the fish and a bright rainbow. My wife than dug a hole outside where she placed the fish, and held a short service in which our daughter was able to express her feelings about this loved and missed beta.

Later that evening as my daughter and I sat on the couch she asked me if Harley was going to come back. Searching for answers I responded, "Harley will always be with you." I pointed to her heart and let her know that this is where Harley is now.

As poetic and wonderful as my comforting advice may have sounded I couldn't help but wonder why I told her this. Do I really believe that pets (fish even!) have spirits, and that these spirits continue to have an influence on our lives after they are gone? As one co-worker joked after I told him about my advice, can pets we treat poorly haunt us?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. But what I believe I was doing was trying to comfort our daughter by sharing my beliefs and what has consoled me when I have lost someone close.

I know through my personal trials and spiritual experiences that death is not the end of the soul. It is only the beginning of the next stage of our eternity. While we are separated by the veil of mortality and death, I believe we can still be influenced and assisted by our loved ones that have passed on.

As a great prophet once taught:

"Now, there is a death which is called a temporal death; and the death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, that all shall be raised from this temporal death. The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time...” -Alma 11:42,43
This Resurrection is made possible by our Savior, Jesus Christ. Said he:
"...I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die..." -Gospel of John 11:25-26

As a Latter-day Saint, not only do I believe in eternal life, but I believe that eternal life with our families is possible and what God desires for all of His children.

Lately I have witnessed a lot of friends and acquaintances lose family members. While I am blessed to not be dealing with the direct loss, it has caused me great pain as I ponder how I would handle losing a close loved one - my spouse, a parent, a sibling, even a child. I have dealt with death in the past, but it's effects have not weakened with time.

While I feel strong in my knowledge and testimony of eternal life am I strong enough to overcome the trial of uncertainty and despair in the shadow of death? Will I be able to stay in control of my emotions and feelings as my faith is tested? Can I look down at my loved one who is gone and know that I will be with them again?

While our daughter still brings up Harley, with the passing of time and her parent's words her wounds have healed. I hope that I can have as much strength in the words of the Savior, as my daughter has in mine.